Public Drunkenness: When One More is Too Much

bottles with alcoholA person can be convicted of public drunkenness if he appears “in any public place manifestly under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance…to the degree that he may endanger himself or other persons or property, or annoy persons in his vicinity.”

Unlike the charge of Driving Under the Influence (DUI), there is no defined blood-alcohol limit for intoxicants before someone can be cited for public drunkenness.  That is because there is no requirement in the law that police perform chemical analysis or other tests to determine whether a person is objectively under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  Whether someone is “manifestly under the influence…to the degree that he may endanger himself or other persons” is a subjective determination made by the arresting police officer, based on his training, knowledge, and experience.

In the recent case of Commonwealth v. Henderson, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed a conviction for public drunkenness where the arresting officer had failed to perform a Breathalyzer or other field sobriety tests.  The officer testified that the defendant had the odor of alcohol on his breath, bloodshot and glassy eyes, and had difficulty maintaining his balance.  The Superior Court determined that the officer’s observations of the defendant’s behavior and appearance, and the officer’s past experience with intoxicated persons, were sufficient to convict the defendant of public drunkenness.

Although the offense of public drunkenness is largely determined according to the arresting officer’s opinion, it is subject to certain standards which may be helpful in defending against the charge.  The officer must be able to support his opinion with observations and reasonably drawn inferences – the police cannot accuse a person of the offense without being able to later articulate the reasons they suspected the person was intoxicated.  Additionally, officer making the accusation must testify to his observations and articulate the reasons for the charge.  The police cannot rely solely on information they receive from witnesses to form the basis for a public drunkenness conviction.  They must also prove that the person was intoxicated in a “public place” (i.e. not on the person’s own property or in the person’s home), and that the level of intoxication was such that it endangered the person or other persons or property.

Public drunkenness a summary offense, and is punishable by $500.00 for the first conviction and $1000.00 for each subsequent offense.  While the penalties are not severe, having a conviction for public drunkenness on your record may affect your future employment opportunities, or be the source of embarrassment.  Before proceeding through the system without representation, contact us at 610.945.9456, for a free consultation.  You may also visit our website at

Posted on March 5, 2015, in Alcohol, Criminal Law, DUI, Family Law, Minor, Underage Drinking and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Public Drunkenness: When One More is Too Much.

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